Obedient 'bots' are being directed to shift public discourse, grab political power and escalate online fraud
First, some context. A "bot'" is a computer that stands ready to receive instructions remotely and surreptitiously from a controller. Gather together 10,000 or 100,000 bots and you have a botnet, a network of computers awaiting commands.
A classic bot is simply an infected computer. It could be your PC or mine. And then there is a newer type of bot that exists as an instance of a virtual machine. This type of virtual bot can be created easily and cheaply in the Internet cloud, via services from Google, Amazon and Microsoft. In the past couple of years, cyber criminals have begun to spin up these cloud-based virtual bots by the millions.
The larger point is this: badness on the Internet continues to escalate because persons with malicious intent have access to an endless supply of bots. Botnets do the heavy lifting of cybercrime. They distribute email spam and phishing attacks, probe websites for weaknesses and carry out denial of service attacks.
But now botnets are being put to work in some profoundly disturbing ways that threaten the fabric of society.